Fallout 4, and Why Millennials Don’t Care About Nuclear War

Recently, I read an article on Federation of American Scientist’s Bulletin of Atomic Scientists blog regarding youth perceptions of nuclear weapons and ways to educate them about nuclear arms. Part of the premise of the piece was to give them context to view such weapons and to fear them as their (our) parents did.

Suggestions were mostly focused on the fear nuclear weapons should generate. They addressed ways to gain attention through protest and use that as an opportunity to educate people, using virtual reality to simulate a nuclear blast and instilling the reality of nuclear warfare.The problem with these activists is that they miss the point. It isn’t that young people are unaware of nuclear war, it’s that we don’t care.

If culture is anything to go by people are still making talking about nuclear war. When I read the line about virtual reality my mind immediately jumped to the Fallout series of video games and a digitally rendered post apocalyptic Washington D.C.

The Reflecting Pool and Wash monument FO3
A screenshot from the game. This is the National Mall as it appears in Fallout 3. *

The Fallout series started in the 1990s after the end of cold war. The games explore a retro-futuristic 22nd century based on the 1950s and early 1960s. The games alternate future explores a world where and the U.S and China destroy each other in a nuclear war.

In each game the player starts from a underground bunker called a Vault, built (ostensibly) to save humanity from a nuclear apocalypse. Once he or she emerges from the Vault the player spends hours exploring a different war ravaged part of the United States. Recent games have focused on Washington D.C., The Southwest, and Boston.


Apart from the retro-futuristic and sci-fi themes, the game serves as a grim portrayal of a world where nuclear weapons and technology ran amok. Nothing in the world is free of radiation. There are corpses everywhere; Men, women and children. Some were killed by the bombs years ago and remain as skeletons, some are people that you had to kill to survive.

Very small skeletons in a bombed out school. I won’t be any more explicit than that.


The cities are piles of rubble and society has regressed to a tribe state with small settlements fighting raiders for the pre-war technology. Weapons, food, and shelter are all scarce. It shows a scenario worse than any reality a current nuclear war could produce. This is a world where nothing grows and civilization has been totally annihilated by nuclear war.

Old Olney
This is Old Olney; named for my hometown in the D.C suburbs and placed in it’s approximate location.

Fallout 3 and Fallout 4 have sold millions of copies. This is a game played by millions of millennials and adults alike.

This is not the only game that has explored the topic of atomic war. Metro 2033 is set in a post war Moscow subway system. Even call of Duty has explored the topic. It is not like games like this are rare or fringe.

So why isn’t nuclear disarmament top of the agenda?

So with high resolution visuals of a nuclear apocalypse being widely viewed regularly by young people today, why doesn’t nuclear disarmament get more attention? Why isn’t the abolition or reduction of nuclear weapons even a campaign issue in the 2016 election?

The political situation has changed

One reason is that the political situation has changed since the Cold War. Stockpiles have plummeted and tensions have evaporated. Where there were once hundreds of thousands of troops in an armed standoff across Europe, the U.S now only has around 50,000 troops stationed on the continent. Even with additional deployments as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve the amount of U.S troops in Europe is no where near it’s Cold War high of nearly 280,000 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. After the Soviet Union collapsed, the chance that a conventional war that could escalate into a nuclear war collapsed in Europe as well.

A cultural reset

In the 1980s, the nuclear arms race and Soviet expansionism had been concerns for decades. When the Cold War ended that cycle was broken. I grew up with no fear of nuclear annihilation. The culture simply shifted from fear of imminent nuclear war to one of cooperation. Even the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists itself seems to agree. In 1991 the “Doomsday Clock” shifted back to it’s lowest setting ever at 17 minutes to midnight.

Given these factors it really isn’t a wonder why non-proliferation isn’t higher on the list of priorities. The days where nuclear annihilation appeared imminent are over. Even as million play games like Fallout, the images of a bombed out D.C seems as far away as the 1950s themselves . Wandering through a the Capital Wasteland in Fallout 3 appear like a window into what could have been, but certainly not what may be.



*I have installed several modifications to my copy of game. These mostly improve the texture resolution of the in game models and remove a green tint present in the base game.


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One thought on “Fallout 4, and Why Millennials Don’t Care About Nuclear War

  1. Every now and then I like to sit and think about how de-sensitized I am towards graphic things thanks to video games. Thanks to your post, I’m going to go do that now.


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